Scan Tool Diagnostics
Choosing A Scan Tool
If you have a 1995 or newer vehicle, you have OBD II. But just because it's generic and the connector will plug into your car doesn't mean any scan tool will work on your car. If you have a 1998 or later European vehicle the scan tool will need a software upgrade. Another potential problem vehicles are Korean and the scan tool may need software upgrades to read them correctly.
There are several brands of scan tools, each with different capabilities and options. If you decide to purchase one for your use, shop around and get the one that will serve your needs.
The OTC Mind Reader for OBD I can be upgraded with an additional chip to read generic OBD II in domestic, Japanese and earlier European models (but not the newest Europeans).
The Actron Scan Tool for OBD I can be updated to the same level of OBD II as the OTC Mind Reader with a plug-in cartridge (or you can buy an OBD II-only model).
AutoXray produces a programmable scan tool. Although it doesn't have the OBD I Chrysler command tests of the Mind Reader, it is the one home mechanic's scan tool that covers all generic OBD II models.
All AutoXray scan tools are designed to be upgraded electronically, from one-make OBD I coverage through the latest models. Other scan tools may be upgraded to enhanced status and beyond with new cartridges, CD-ROM or via the Internet.
Although Actron has a complete line of OBD II scan tools, the most popular for car owners is the Actron CP9087. It is a simple code reader with read-codes and code-erase buttons. You get no sensor readings or other data items. It's a low-cost device (Web Price: $89.99) that comes with a good assortment of wire leads for making test connections.
EASE Diagnostics has software that will turn your WIN CE/Pocket PC or Palm into a scan tool. It will scan OBD II diagnostic data on 1996 and newer passenger vehicles. Ease also offers a Wireless Vehicle Interface (WVI). This is a 2.4 GHz scan tool interface that eliminates the need for cables between the vehicle under test and the PC running the EASE diagnostic software. Vehicles can be scanned from several hundred feet away.
As anyone with a household PC knows, "plug and play" doesn't always work, and OBD II scan tools can encounter compatibility problems. Some European and Korean cars don't always work when they're supposed to. How can you tell? Checking a scan tool manufacturer's Web site for updates is the way to keep your tool current.
It's six years since OBD II has come out and the early vehicles are now out of warranty. OBD II is a very complex system and I can only scratch the surface here, but hopefully it is a little less of a mystery now. Modern OBD II computers are a lot better than the early ones and are getting better every year. They can detect more problems and are much better storing the DTC's it finds.
Copyright © 2001 - 2003 Vincent T. Ciulla All Rights Reserved